Historic Old Zion

Lutheran Church


Proclaiming Christ since 1742

You will have to dig deep to find our roots.  The beginnings of Old Zion are in the German immigration to the American colonies along the East Coast from as early as 1690.  Many of those immigrants settled in the area of Philadelphia, and some of them formed a Lutheran congregation which grew along with the city.

It proved to be very difficult at first to find a German pastor who would stay to serve the congregation for any length of time.  Therefore these German Lutherans depended on the Swedish Lutheran pastors of the former New Sweden (Nya Sverige) colony to minister to them.  Thus the still existing Swedish Gloria Dei church (Old Swedes’ church), built in 1699-1700, served also as “our” first church building.

A dramatic change occurred in 1742, when at long last there was found a German pastor willing to serve the German Lutherans in Philadelphia on a permanent basis.  He was Heinrich Melchior Muehlenberg, sent out from Halle/Saale, at that time a center for Lutheran outreach and missionary activity.  Pastor Muehlenberg turned out to be the right man in the right place at the right time.  Under his energetic and capable leadership, the congregation flourished.

Two churches were built—St. Michael (1743) and Zion (1766), as well a schoolhouse (1761, still existing).  The churches gave name to the congregation, “St. Michael-and-Zion,” but in the course of time it became known popularly as “Old Zion.”  That has been our official name since 1984.  From the early 1800s on, a number of daughter congregations were established throughout the Philadelphia area, a reflection of the growth of the city and a proof of the ongoing influence of Muehlenberg, whose guiding maxim was always ecclesia plantanda—“the Church must be planted.”  In addition, of course, these younger congregations also reflected the gradual change from German to English as the language of worship.

“Mother” Old Zion, however, did and does retain German as one of her official service languages, which, for a church founded in pre-Revolution times, is unique in American Lutheranism.  Not even the two World Wars were able to muzzle our preachers.  And for all her history, Old Zion has never become a mere museum of the past.  Rather, we remain a living link to those who came to these shores to confess and to practice their Lutheran faith, because it is that faith which we continue to proclaim today and which we hope to carry forward into the future.  We now worship in a beautiful sanctuary built in 1891/92—our fifth church building, but the same joyful Gospel!  

For more in-depth history topics, please visit our new history blog by clicking here.

Historic Old Zion Lutheran Church


Mission Statement


Historical Old Zion Lutheran Church, a loving, caring congregation,

praises God in English and German.

We proclaim, share and live the joyous Gospel of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord.

We pray that by means of a traditional Lutheran Worship,

God blesses us and all those who worship with us.